When we ask “why is there something rather than nothing” what does that mean?


I’ve been seeing this philosophical question popping up lately and I don’t understand the question even after Googling the explanation.

In: 5

It means pretty much what it says. There is no explanation for why *anything* exists – the universe and everything in it. But things *do* exist. But *why*? How?

At the very start of the universe, we have the Big Bang. And from it, all matter is formed. But there is a bit of a question. Why is there matter? After all, if you convert energy into matter, you also get the same amount of anti-matter. So if the Big Bang created equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, how come there still is matter? And that is the essence of “Why is there something instead of nothing?”

We pretty much exclusively talk about causality when explaining things. One thing causes another, which causes another, which causes another. It’s hard to even imagine what it would mean for something to explain *why* without causality. But causality always requires a prior cause.

If you try and use that same way of explaining things while working backwards, eventually you come to a problem. You can keep asking “why?” after each explanation. Even if we knew everything about the laws governing our universe, you can still ask *why*. Why those laws? Why are they self consistent? If time is an emergent property of the universe what does it even mean to talk about causality before/without time?

And yet the one thing we can actually be sure of is that *something* exists. No matter how impossible it seems to derive existence from nonexistence, something still exists. Whether god created the universe, or we’re in a simulation, or there are infinite other universes with different laws of physics and life only arises where it’s possible, or if all of reality is just an infinite dimensional vector in hilbert space… none of those avoid the seemingly impossible fact that something does, truly, exist.

The only thing anyone can actually be sure of is also the thing that most defies explanation.

You could argue that it’s an ill-formed question that actually*doesn’t* mean anything (what would it mean for there to “be nothing”?). But most likely whoever is asking this means something more like “why did antimatter not obliterate all matter?”

Thanks for the helpful responses everyone! Consider my brain broken.